The Chronicles of Theldar

Ember's life is simple, normal, nothing to boast about but she likes it. That is until one day her peaceful town is invaded by mysterious enemy forces and she is thrown headlong into an adventure which will test her, her friends, and ultimately decide the future of Theldar.

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4. A change of plan - Chapter 3

~ Chapter 3 ~

A change of plan

 

She wasn’t sure what time she had fallen asleep the previous night; hell she wasn’t even able to remember reaching the campsite she found herself in the next morning. But if there was one thing she did remember from last night it was the screams, and the horror of the attack upon her village. It was this thought that caused her to sit bolt upright and shout for her mother and sister, shrugging the blankets off herself and fumbling for her sword.

   ‘Greta! Alvi! Alvi, my sister, where are you?’

   In a blur of motion a kindly elf was by her side and stroking her brow. For a moment Ember believed it to be her mother Greta but soon realised the hand was too slender and the voice too soft.

   ‘Shhhh; hush now.’ said the voice, ‘You’re safe now.’

   ‘Where are they?’ Ember said with some restraint before losing control and raising her voice, ‘What have you done with my family?!’

   ‘Nothing, I have done nothing my dear. Now hush, quieten now.’

   ‘NO! Where are they?!’

   ‘Listen to me my girl,’ the soft voice reassure her, ‘your family are beyond your help. You can do nothing for them. Hush now and I shall tell you what happened. But first you must have some breakfast.’

   Ember didn’t have the energy to continue her resistance after the hectic nightmare she seemed to have gone to sleep to avoid and so with the help of the motherly elf hauled herself up and sat on a smooth log beside a small fire upon which roasted a wolpertinger – a rabbit like creature with antlers and wings – skewered on a spit.

   ‘What’s your name?’ the elf asked as she and Ember sat on the log, the teenager wolfing down the half of the wolpertinger she had been given, all her table manners thrown to the wind in her hunger.

   ‘Ember.’ she said after gulping down a chunk of the left wing, still a little wary of the woman she now remembered to be her saviour. ‘What’s yours?’

   ‘I’m Serena. Do you remember anything from last night?’

   ‘I remember up to meeting that other elf and running into the forest but after that nothing.’

   Serena chuckled, a sound that could charm the birds from the trees, ‘Well, that ‘other elf’ is Elder. And the others you’ll meet when they arrive back in camp. But for now tuck in.’

   Elder was the first to arrive back, appearing from the trees a few minutes after Ember had finished her meal and accidentally interrupting her and Serena’s conversation.

   ‘Oh, I am sorry if I inconvenienced you Serena.’

   ‘Not at all. Ember, this is Elder; Elder, Ember.’

   Elder stuck out a bony hand which Ember shook tentatively, eyeing the sabre at his side warily. ‘Ah, Ember, nice to meet you. I’m sure we shall get on very well.’ He noticed her worried gaze, ‘Never fear my girl, I only use this on blaggards and scum – the likes of which I am afraid to say succeeded in capturing your village last night. I am so sorry.’

   Ember took an instant liking to the tall elf and smiled in reply.

   As he set about roasting a second wolpertinger, skinning it with a sharp blade he flipped from a small cooking box, the basajaun arrived in camp, his arms laden with firewood and his axe strung across his back.

   Glancing at Elder who nodded back, he dropped the logs and strolled forwards towards Ember and Serena. ‘Ahem. Name’s Bracer.’ Bracer did not offer a hand but Ember smiled at him anyhow.

   ‘Hi Bracer, I’m Ember.’

   ‘Yeah, nice to meet you I’m sure.’ he grunted before tasking himself with sharpening his axe.

   ‘You’ll have to forgive our Bracer, he’s not exactly a great guy when it comes to change – he’s still not overly happy about Lunk joining and we found him over a month ago.’ Serena explained apologetically.

   ‘Who’s Lunk?’

   A sudden groan behind them caused Ember to swizzle in her seat and gasp at the brute standing before her. The creature was easily ten foot tall and had it not been the grey fur and twitching pink nose, Ember was sure he could have passed as a walking tree. Two tusks protruded up from the snout half the length twixt Ember’s hand and elbow and each of his paws sported three mighty digging claws and a smaller thumb claw whereas his feet were simply stubby studs. His head hung above his large potbelly and his shoulders were positioned slightly backwards giving him a slouched appearance.

   ‘That’s Lunk.’ muttered Bracer who’d been eavesdropping.

   The great Lunk, who was carrying some dead animal Ember had never seen before, dropped his load onto the log, and leaning forward twitched his shiny pink nose over Ember’s face, ruffling her hair with his breathing. Raising a paw he stroked her back gently then turned away to seat himself on the ground a little way off.

   It shocked Ember a little that such a large beast could own such affection and kindness.

   ‘He likes you.’ said Serena.

   Shortly after the minotaur arrived at camp, the twin pixies close at his heels. The bull-like creature was so muscular and tall he could give Lunk a run for his money any day of the week, though he was granted probably two feet shorter. His chest was bare and battle-scarred and only sported a thin layer of fur, unlike his back which was covered in long black hair which rippled with his muscles. On the lower half of his body he wore heavy-looking battle armour covered in intricate carvings and scars alike, and as Serena had pointed out when they had been talking, two massive shoulder pads were propped against the log which also belonged to him.

   The two pixies were – surprisingly – wingless, a trait that until a few minutes ago Ember had never associated with pixies. Were it not for their odd hair colours Ember was sure she would never have been able to tell the two girls apart; event their clothes were identical – leather cuirass’ made in the traditional elven manner of strips of leather placed one over another along with shoulder pads and gloves covering the back of the hand and the lower arm all made from the same leather. Continuing from the leather cuirass’ they wore leather trousers which although looked tight were surprisingly comfortable and easy to move in.

   The minotaur nodded at Ember in a way that she took to mean ‘Welcome.’

   Meanwhile the two pixies hurried up to her and shook her hands vigorously, speaking so fast after one another it almost seemed rehearsed.

   ‘Don’t mind him.’

   ‘That’s just Tauro. He’s nice an’ all,’

   ‘It’s just he’s not the best at socialising.’

   ‘If you know what we mean.’

   ‘I’m Riff.’ said the girl with red hair.

   ‘And I’m Raff.’ continued the one with green hair.

   ‘But you can call us RiffRaff.’ said Raff.

   ‘Everyone else does.’

   ‘Come now you two. You’ll shake poor Ember’s arm off. Go get some breakfast.’

   ‘Nice to meet you Ember.’ they said and hurried off to grab some of the second wolpertinger Elder had roasted.

   ‘You’ll have to forgive them; they’re what you might call a bit excitable. Anyway, we’ll be a few minutes and then we’ll have to get off.’

   True as Serena had said it was only a few minutes later that Elder called everyone round the fire to discuss matters. Handing over to RiffRaff, who had been sent to scout out Dutton in the early hours of the morning, he let them report what they had seen to the gathered.

   ‘Dutton’s deserted.’ started Raff

   ‘Or at least it was when we went.’

   ‘We couldn’t find anything to suggest anyone had been there in at least the last few hours. All the fires were just fizzling out.’

   ‘Luckily the only bodies we found were those of the enemy.’

   Elder puzzled for a while. ‘Well at least there is some good news in that there appears to have been no friendly fatalities. But I can’t think of anywhere they might have gone. Ember, you know the place better than any of us, can you think of anywhere they might have been taken?’

   Ember thought for a while. ‘Well, the only place I can think of is the mine.’

   ‘Mine?’

   ‘About half a league up to the west there’s a small mine Dutton owns in the mountains. That’s the only place I think they could’ve gone.’

   ‘I suppose that is a possibility. Did you find any tracks out of the town you two?’

   ‘No, but if the mine is up to the west, we did find a hard beaten track heading in that direction.’

   ‘It was so well used we couldn’t tell whether the tracks were new or not.’

   Elder’s mind was made up. ‘It seems that this mine is the most likely option. We’d better get up there pronto. If we set off now we should be there by noon, possibly a little earlier. Right then crew, get moving.’

   As everyone started up and began packing all the equipment away, Ember caught Serena’s arm. ‘I don’t mean to be rude, but who exactly are you lot, and why do you care about my town?’

   Serena cursed herself for leaving that out. ‘We’re the Outlaws Ember. Every one of us was exiled for some reason or another, but as you can see we’re the good guys. As for your town, we track and take out enemy forces and Dutton got caught in the crossfire.’

   ‘What do you mean enemy forces?’

   ‘I mean Delvar’s forces, surely you’ve heard of him.’

   ‘Sorry, no.’

   ‘Well,’ she looked conflicted, as if to tell Ember or not, ‘I’ll tell you when we’re walking. Now help me with this log, so Lunk can carry it.’

 

~

 

   It took about half an hour before they were off but once they were they set a lively pace and the mood was optimistic as the sun’s rays shone brightly through the trees and sprinkled the forest floor with little diamonds of light. Birds twittered in the trees and several times Ember saw small mammals bouncing around and tiny lizards basking in the sunny spots.

   She was walking with Serena and Elder, with Bracer and Tauro up ahead, chopping back the odd bramble that hindered their progress, Lunk at the rear with the heavy log on his back, carrying it as easily as if it were a matchstick whilst RiffRaff hopped from branch to branch like apes, their agility appearing to know no bounds.

   It was about ten o’clock, according to Elder who could read the time by the position of the sun and alerted the team every time the next hour arrived, when Ember struck up the conversation Serena had promised earlier.

   ‘So then, whose this Delvar bloke and why are you so intent on stopping his men?’

   Serena sighed, ‘I suppose you’ll need to know if you’re to stay with us for any amount of time, although I’m surprised you haven’t heard of him before now.’

   ‘Well generally Amantrei is a very connected country, so if I’m quite surprised I haven’t either.

   ‘Still, if his men came over the mountains to the far west then no one is forced to have even encountered them until now.’ She added.

   Serena nodded. ‘Well, Delvar is what you might call a tyrant. He’s got his finger in every pie you can name. I’m sure you’ve heard of places countries like Medem and Larkissan.’ Ember nodded. ‘Well, he’s got influence over most of them in one way or another. Threatening their leaders, terrorising their towns until he gets what he wants.’

   ‘But why doesn’t someone do something? If he’s threatening more than one country surely their united armies could stop him and his men.’

   ‘Ah, but you see that’s where Delvar is very clever. He doesn’t just try and threaten people or scare them into what he wants; he’s also a lot more subtle than that. He knows if he applies pressure in the right places the leaders will bend to his every will. For example, if he were to reveal that one of the kings had a very dark past – violence, dark magic and the like, that king would be thrown from the throne. And in this day and age, they’d rather spend a bit more of their subjects’ taxes to appease Delvar than take the risk of being exposed in an attempt to destroy him.’

   ‘But to destroy him would be the right thing to do surely.’

   ‘Like I said, in this day and age most people opt for what is easy over what is right.’

   ‘So why are you after him?’ Ember asked curiously.

   ‘Why do you think? Delvar knows that no-one besides one of the countries he now virtually owns has an army big enough to take on his own. That’s why we’re guessing he’s also trying to expand into Amantrei and more than likely Lleroan over the border. If he owns them as well he’ll have no-one to oppose him. Eventually he’ll be able to rule Theldar without the worry of any political leaders trying to take it back.

   ‘What he hasn’t bet on is all the little groups like ours who won’t settle down and just watch on. We’ve met plenty of others like ourselves who are doing the same thing as us. It might only be small groups of his forces, but sooner or later it’ll weaken his strength over everyone. Plus, we were all exiled because we either stood up to our leader for bowing to the man, or we were misunderstood by the twisted society Delvar has manipulated into exiling anyone out of the ordinary.

   ‘Take RiffRaff for example; they were exiled from Larkissan because of two things. First their hair colour – some of the Delvar’s priests he sent into the city said that because their separate hair colours were so different from other pixies it was an omen of bad luck upon the city. And second because when Delvar’s men raised their town to the ground and enslaved its people, they managed to kill one of them.’

   ‘They were exiled for saving themselves?!’ Ember was half-surprised, half-disgusted. ‘That’s awful.’

   ‘Not as awful as how they felt after killing the brute. When we found them on the outskirts of the country they were distraught that they had killed someone. It took us three days to convince them it was the right thing to do; otherwise they would have been killed themselves. Speaking of which, how are you feeling about last night?’

   ‘What do you mean?’

   ‘Well, you did kill two redcaps. And like I said RiffRaff didn’t take it well.’

   ‘Three redcaps actually, and an ogre, though that was a lucky shot.’

   ‘Wow. And you don’t have a problem with that?’

   ‘You know last night I thought I would, I really did. But I couldn’t remember most of it until you told me everything again at breakfast, and I realised I might have killed four people, but every last one of them would have killed me if I hadn’t conked them. I mean I feel bad an’ all, but I’m not about to start grieving over someone who’d probably have slit their own mother’s throat if it got them a crust.’

   ‘Quite right too.’ Elder interrupted the two of them. ‘That’s the attitude to take with these blaggards. Don’t give ‘em a thought. They’re all monsters every last one of us and the likes of us are just what they need to teach ‘em a lesson.’

   Serena stared, displeased at Elder’s words encouraging murder, especially towards an elf of fifteen, but said nothing.

   ‘What?’ he said, reading her look, ‘RiffRaff are only her age and they realise these scum need sorting out.’

   Elder read her look for a second time and decided to move towards the front to avoid getting a slap.

 

~

 

   It was just after noon that they all reached where Ember had said the mine was, and sure enough, as they hid behind a row of bushes the place was bustling, with redcaps and ogres swarming round the entrance. The cyclops was nowhere to be seen.

   ‘Ember, what do you know of the mine?’ Elder whispered.

   ‘I’ve never actually been in it, but I’ve heard the miner’s talking about it. From what I’ve heard it’s got quite a wide tunnel for a few hundred yards which then branches off into five other, smaller ones. I believe this continues three times over in each tunnel and at the end of each there is a multitude of caves where the majority of mining occurs. I believe that some mining takes place on the tunnel walls as well.’

   ‘Do you know how it is supported?’

   ‘I think most of them are just wooden beams.’

   Elder shook his head. ‘We can’t take them here. Not yet anyway. We’ll have to gain some more information on the layout before we can come up with a plan.’

   ‘And how are we gonna do that?’ Ember asked.

   ‘Aha!’ Riff exclaimed. ‘There is something you don’t know about me and my sister.’

   ‘And what’s that?’

   ‘We’re masters of disguise.’ Raff explained.

   ‘Wait till you see this.’ Elder chuckled and they all retreated back into the safety of the trees.

 

~

 

   An hour later, after setting up camp about half a mile away from the mine, well out of the range the redcaps patrolled, RiffRaff appeared from behind a set of bushes where they had been preparing.

   ‘You ready?’

   ‘We’re ready.’ Serena replied for everyone.

   Ember nearly went for her sword as RiffRaff emerged from the bushed they looked so like two redcaps. Three quarters of an hour beforehand, just after they had set up they had vanished behind the bushes with only a satchel and a dagger. Now they emerged they were different people, a different species.

   From the satchel they had used rags of cloth and ripped them slightly, slicing them with the dagger until they fitted perfectly around their body to match the clothes of the redcap, creased rags which hung low around the neck ended in ragged shorts to the knee. Into the rags they had pushed a rolled up vest each so as to resemble the swooping curve of the redcaps head to back and they had both fashioned a long curving, hollow nose from a lump of wood, and having painted it and strapped a bit of elastic to it had placed it over their own noses. To finish off they had slipped on some simple cloth shoes, hooked a basic leather breastplate over their shoulders and equipped themselves with a small axe each.

   ‘I’m impressed.’ Ember grinned.

   Hobbling forward in the casual redcap manner the duo patted each other on the back amiably. ‘Haharr, don’ ye fear me pretty, we ain’ gonna lay a digit on yer fine bodus.’

   Then straightening up they looked at each other and decided to be off. ‘RiffRaff.’ Ember said, ‘If you see them, could you please let my mother and sister know I’m alright. Its Greta and Alvi.’

   ‘We’ll try.’ Riff promised. And with that, they bounded off in the direction of the mine.

 

~

 

   Over the next two weeks there was not much to do for Ember. With RiffRaff gone most days infiltrating the mine and analysing its layout, Tauro and Bracer performing duties like fetching firewood or going hunting and Serena and Lunk on sentry duty to make sure no wandering redcap came across the camp, it was often the case that Ember and Elder were left in camp alone.

   On the third day of everyone being gone Elder decided it would be a good idea to get Ember up to scratch on her fighting skills. ‘I hear you were a good shot that night Serena saved you,’ he said after everyone has left for the majority of the day, ‘so why don’t we try a bit of dagger throwing.’

   After setting up a target on a tree, carving various circles from about a yard across to a bulls eye roughly the size of an apple, he handed Ember a set of throwing daggers and started her off a few yards away.

   Over the course of a few hours she got ever more accurate and it was about noon, when Serena arrived back in camp to refill her and Lunk’s leather drinking pouches, that Ember finally struck dead centre.

   Serena and Elder grinned at one another.

   After Serena had left Elder moved Ember back a few yards and then again after a while until by the evening when everyone was returning to camp she could hit the dead centre almost every time from about ten feet away.

   Elder and Serena were very impressed, as was everyone else, even Bracer though it pained to admit it. Lunk even patted her on the back, sensing the jovial feeling aimed at the young elf.

   The one being which wasn’t particularly happy for her was the tree she’d been practiced on, which was covered in chips and deep grooves.

   The next day she tried a bit of archery, and then the next tried with Elder’s sabre but couldn’t quite get the hang of it.

   Over the rest of the time on her own with Elder she tried all manner of weapons to see if they suited her fancy; axes, swords, maces, sickles – she tried a warhammer, a spear, a staff and many more until she found one she was particularly gifted at.

   On the last day that everyone returned she was wielding a set of dual scimitars which she found herself to be very skilful with whilst a set of four throwing daggers were tucked in her belt. Elder had supplied her with a spare set of light armour and although it worked well it was several sizes too large making her appear slightly out of proportion. Still she fancied her chances better now she could fight and had a little more protection than when she had been wearing only her pyjamas and couldn’t hold a sword properly.

   And that night, after eating a delicious dinner of roast wolpertinger each paired with various fruits and wild vegetables they all sat down round the fire to assemble an assault plan.

   ‘Okay then, so we now know that the mine is not quite as difficult to infiltrate as we first thought.’ Elder stated. ‘It appears that instead of the tunnels separating fivefold they only replicate threefold and from what we can gather from RiffRaff’s recon missions is that one of the primary tunnels has caved in so there are only two primary tunnels which are operative. Furthermore, the mining only appears to occur in one of these, for the central one apparently needs to the new barracks for the cyclops’ men.

   ‘So here’s what I suggest. Tauro, if you and Bracer would be so kind as to draw out Cylen’s men then RiffRaff, who will be situated within the mine can clear out an men still inside the barracks. Once the enemy is out in the open, Serena will take out the archer’s from the ledge above the entrance and then attack from above. Lunk and I will come in from the sides, circling to the back to stop a retreat. Ember will sneak into the mine to aid RiffRaff in removing the prisoners from their lodgings in the mine and move them into the barracks before raising the alarm on a prisoner escape. We shall retreat and let the enemy enter the mining area, after which RiffRaff and Ember shall cave in the primary tunnel by burning the supports down.’

   The Outlaws nodded at each other before turning in for the night ready to awaken for the assault in the early hours of the morning.

 

~

 

   It was just before dawn and the Outlaws were hiding in the bushes ready to launch their attack. Ember had her dual scimitars clutched tightly in her hands and her daggers were sharpened ready for battle. She thought for a moment what she was about to do, about how many creatures she was going to condemn to starvation or suffocation in the mine before her, but then she remembered what they had done to her. In that mine was her family, her friends. Greta, Alvi, Erma, Lando, more than likely Fin was there somewhere and all her school friends, all of them being forced to do hard labour for hours on end with no rest, little food and drink and a piteous new life.

   Her anger welled at the scum that had enslaved her town and it took all her strength not to leap out and go in there by herself. But she had to stick to the plan.

   RiffRaff were in disguise again and were just about to infiltrate the mine again when Lunk gave a low growl and a moment later there came a voice from behind them.

   ‘I wouldn’t do that if I were you.’

   The eight of them whirled round and two see a lanky, green-cloaked elf leaning on a tree a short distance away. In a moment a variety of weapons were levelled at him but he didn’t seem to notice. Instead he plucked an apple from his sleeve and bit into it loudly.

   ‘Do you want to get us killed?!’ Elder hissed, his mind made up on the man in a moment; he didn’t like him.

   ‘Oh of course, I almost forgot, you’re trying to attack a mine to save some worthless prisoners and trap the equally worthless scum who enslaved them.’

   Ember drew here throwing daggers and drew back ready to throw. ‘I’d watch who you call worthless, that’s my family you’re talking about.’ The elf stared at her. ‘I’m a good shot.’ she added coldly.

   ‘Hang on a minute,’ Elder said sceptically, ‘how do you know that?’

   The elf pulled up the right sleeve of his robe to reveal tattoos similar to Elder’s own, then higher to reveal another tattoo, though this time not multiple curling patterns surrounding his wrists but a sun with a cross in it.

   ‘You’re a Conspene wizard? I thought your kind went out with the last Great War two hundred years ago.’

   ‘Well, I would be quite obliged to tell you all however don’t you think it would be better if we spoke in a little safer place.’

   ‘No, we have a job to do.’ Elder said stubbornly.

   ‘And I have a job for you to do too.’

   Elder wasn’t expecting that. ‘I beg your pardon.’

   ‘Just let’s talk about this over a nice cup of cider.’

   Reluctantly Elder agreed and within ten minutes they were back at camp.

   The man seated himself on the log, much to Elder’s annoyance, and poured himself a cup of cider from the bottle he found by the side of the log. Elder ground his teeth.

   ‘Well then, what was so important we had to abort our mission?’ Elder questioned pointedly.

   ‘Look I’m sorry I had to pull you out but there are bigger things at stake here besides,’ he looked at Ember, ‘and forgive me for saying this my dear, a few prisoners.’

   Ember didn’t like the way he spoke of her family but said nothing.

   ‘Like?’ Elder pushed.

   ‘Like the destruction of Theldar.’

   ‘Go on.’ Elder was a little interested now.

   ‘You see Delvar isn’t just trying to rule the land by attacking its leaders, he knows that armies have to start somewhere. Every rebellion needs fuel, and that means men, fighters. So he’s cutting off all the small towns and villages from their capital cities. The cities have no idea, they just think life is going on as usual, but in fact their friends and relatives may well be enslaved in some gods forsaken mine producing resources for Delvar instead of themselves. From what I know a quarter of Dembria’s small villages have been captured, just over a third of Adrogen’s and every town for three leagues over Tringom’s border. As far as I know they are the main victims and they have no idea of it, but Delvar is also making a move into Pharenis and Greldan.’

   ‘But what’s this got to do with the destruction of Theldar.’ Elder said.

   ‘In truth, the majority of Delvar’s plans have nothing to do with such an outcome. But I believe they are being used to mask his true intentions. You see in every city Delvar has claimed such as the capital of Larkissan, Enthro, he has taken the archives and museums for his own. Nothing else. Not the forgery where all the money is made, nor the foundries and furnaces which produce weapons. Doesn’t that strike you as a bit odd?’

   ‘Sure, but so what if Delvar likes a bit of history?’

   ‘Ah,’ the wizard started slightly and pointed at Elder, ‘but you see, that’s where you’re wrong. Think of it Elder, how many legendary weapons are there in the legends of the battle of old, or incredible wizards.’

   ‘So?’ Elder was getting a little frustrated at the wizard’s talking in riddles and avoiding the subject.

   ‘Well you see I tailed him to several cities and in each one he entered the archives and the museum. As you, being a wizard, shall know there are several items which even when they are written down produce a strong magical essence.’

   Elder clenched his teeth. ‘I have heard of such items.’

   ‘Well they do exist. Mythical items supposed to have boundless abilities. Items which balance on the fine line between good and evil. And as I trailed Delvar I noted what books he was reading, and what museum items he was observing. And every time the book emanated such a magical flux as I have mentioned, and every one held tell of a mythical scroll. And every museum item he took interest in was a scroll too.’

   ‘So what do you think he’s after?’

   ‘I think he’s after the Necromanical scroll.’

   Elder’s cheeks lost colour ever so slightly and the wizard nodded at him.

   ‘With that you know as well as I the number of things he could bring back.’

   ‘I beg your pardon,’ Ember pulled at the elf’s green robes a little harder than was needed, ‘but what has this to do with us exactly?’

   ‘Ah, an excellent question my girl. You see I happen to know where this scroll is. Once I cottoned on to what he was after I knew exactly where it was. Unlike Delvar, I am a Conspene wizard and although my kind is rare these days, we keep well connected and one of my contacts happened to know that the scroll is situated somewhere in the Varicamor mountains to the north east of Larkissan. And me being a Conspene wizard I was able to check and indeed it was there.’ Ember didn’t ask what a Conspene wizard was; she’d ask Elder later she decided, as he appeared to know.

   ‘Anyhow,’ the wizard continued, ‘Now I know where it is I need you to help me fetch it. All of you.’

   ‘Why don’t you?’ Bracer grunted.

   ‘Well my basajaun friend, because I am but one man, and you are eight. Furthermore, I have other matters to attend to in order to save our dear land. We are all in the same boat here, and if Delvar isn’t stopped then the water will be leaking in very quickly.’

   ‘Why us?’

   ‘Why not you?’

   Elder saw he wasn’t going to get an answer so asked another question. ‘So where is this scroll?’

   ‘I pinpointed it high in the Varicamors in the stash of the Fafnir.’

   ‘The Fafnir?’

   ‘The Fafnir is a dwarf who sold his soul in greed to a witch and was cursed to become a wingless dragon. Or at least that’s how the legend goes. Anyway, I need you eight to fetch it. Once you have I shall appear again. On your way you must alert all the cities to the predicament they are in, a duty I too shall perform in my travels.’

   ‘Who says we’re doing it?’ Bracer interrupted.

   ‘Yeah,’ Ember agreed, ‘In case you hadn’t noticed my family is still in that mine. And I’m not about to leave them behind.’

   ‘Never fear, within the week I shall have your friends out of that mine and home again.’

   ‘You’re one elf!’ Ember exclaimed.

   ‘I’m a wizard.’ the elf pointed out, ‘Believe me it is well within my capabilities.’

   ‘Besides,’ Elder added, ‘we must do it. If Delvar isn’t stopped he could bring back some of the darkest wizards Theldar has ever seen; we could be plunged into a second Dark Age or Theldar could be destroyed completely. We’ll do it.’

   Bracer was about to object but Elder’s look was final and seeing it no-one else bothered to say anything.

   ‘Excellent,’ said the elf, clapping his hands together and not seeming to notice the severe tension surrounding him, ‘one last thing. You are not under any circumstances to try and find or attack Delvar. Firstly no-one actually knows where his castle is and second if you did find it trying to take it would be a suicide mission – he’s not a fool, he’ll have it wrapped in trigger spells and the like that’d wipe you off the face of this land forever.’

   Elder nodded reluctantly and the nine of them all turned in for the night.

   The next morning as they woke up the wizard was gone.

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